Slow and steady, that’s how I go when the going gets tough. Feeling more like 150 tahn 50 today, but still in the fight. Reading a brilliant book by John Carey ‘What Good are the Arts?’ Wish I had read it decades ago, probably hadn’t been written then though, but it is such a good discussion on the role the arts play in society, and he is Aristotlean in his argument, posing all sides of an argument. I think it’s Aristotlean anyway, might be Socratean but then again…. I like the asides of knowledge he keeps throwing in, such as how Hitler thought the general populace were expendable being ‘planetary bacilli’. He wasn’t alone of course, in not including the rest of humankind in his overall vision of heaven on earth, just spectacularly handed the authority to wreak havoc by his fellow countrymen. Don’t imagine for a moment it couldn’t happen here. Despots are by their nature likely to take positions of power over others.
But it is interesting to ponder over the imponderable, to exercise the grey matter in trying to understand the thrust to produce art, and to own it. The two impulses can be at opposite extremes of a spectrum, the artist wanting to pursue meaning, and the acquirer wanting to appear ‘special’ by buying into a world that aspires to enlighten, immortalise.
In the book he quotes many different perspectives, offers argument to entertain and provoke. Teh fact that it pricks a few balloons endears it even more to me. Jeannete Winterson is quoted on the back cover as saying it is ‘idiotic’. Fair do’s. The pretensions of the art world are dealt with time and again, and since creating symbols, language, music, we have let out of Pandora’s Box all the negative aspects of envy, greed, acquisition. But wouldn’t we be much the poorer for all of that? Ellen Dissanayake proposes that the concept of art should not be archived away in the galleries and museums, but widened to take in the ‘making’ of everyday activities like cooking, and home decoration. The ‘making’ of anything, whether it be a song or a cake, or a piece of whittled wood is the process by which we transcend the mundanity of survival, and belong to a community of creators. We cannot afford to lose the sense of competence for living that handling things gives us. Because we have completed goods streamed to us endlessly, prepared meals in supermarkets, pop videos, opera live from opera houses, we have distanced ourselves from doing the things that keep us in touch with living life with satisfaction. Dissanyake attaches special importance to group arts, fulfilling the importance of social interaction as well as the self esteem that creating something allows. I have tried to remember that it doesn’t matter how my attempts at photography or painting or poetry or piano turn out, the importance for me is the opportunity to engage in an activity that allows me to flourish. Otherwise I end up in an existential puddle on the floor, not knowing nowt about owt. That is why there is a strange picture at the beginning of this post, that began as a cyanotype of British Algae and morphed into the vision I had of a revelatory dream.